Important Note: This is a companion piece to my Matt/OC story: What They Wouldn't Do. If you haven't read it, you probably won't find this one-shot particularly interesting/comprehensible. If you choose to read it anyway because it's winter break and you're bored: you've been warned.
Another, Slightly Less Important Note: I've set Matt's birth year as 1986 and Sarah's as 1988, putting them respectively at 28 (soon to be 29) and 26 (soon to be 27) during the events of WTWD, which is currently taking place in early summer of 2015. The scenes of this one-shot span from 1997-present day, and I've listed their ages in each scene at the bottom of the page, if you need a reference and don't feel like doing math.
Now that that's out of the way: A super-special Merry Christmas to all of you! I am overwhelmed and so touched by the response to WTWD. I moved to a new city this year, and it took me a while to make friends here. During that time, I got to know all of you, and it's been so amazing to be able to share my writing with you guys and hear your thoughts and opinions on it. Some of you even made fantastic fan art for it, all of which can be found on my profile.
The next chapter of the main story will be up soon! My birthday is on New Year's Eve, so if you want to give me a virtual Christmas/birthday present (the only time it's acceptable to combine the two) let me know in your review what your favorite chapter or scene from WTWD has been—I always like hearing what you guys enjoyed/want to see more of!
If you celebrate a holiday this month, then happy holidays to you! If not, then I hope your entire year has been lovely, and that 2016 turns out to be even better. You guys are wonderful.
1997, Saint Agnes Orphanage
Christmas was a difficult time of year for Matthew Murdock.
He didn't hate Christmas. In fact, it had always been one of his favorite holidays. But the past few years had been lacking all of the things that he loved most about Christmas—specifically, the person he usually spent Christmas with. This wasn't his first Christmas since his father had died, but it wasn't any easier than the first had been. And this year, he was still smarting from Stick recently walking out of his life, which only made the loneliness of the season that much more noticeable.
Matt had been trying to concentrate on his studying, but it was Christmas Eve, and the sounds and smell associated with the day kept distracting him, digging at a sadness that he was usually fairly successful at ignoring. He could smell the tall pine tree that stood in the chapel of the orphanage, and could hear the sound of Christmas carolers the next street over. In an attempt to compose himself, he set his homework aside and took a few deep breaths, trying to meditate like he'd been taught to.
He breathed in, concentrating, but his focus was broken by the sound of two nuns walking down the corridor directly above his bedroom.
"…apparently Tony Stark donated the money to buy the children's Christmas Eve dinner tonight, along with the stockings of sweets we left in each of their bedrooms. It was quite the generous gift," floated down the familiar voice of Sister Angelica. Another familiar voice responded.
"You mean whoever is in charge of the philanthropy division at Stark Industries picked us for their good publicity this year," Sister Eunice—Matt's least favorite nun by far—corrected her.
"Let's not be cynical, Sister," Angelica reprimanded her fellow nun gently.
"It's not cynicism. There's nothing in our vows against being realistic," Eunice argued. "And realistically, I doubt Tony Stark has ever even heard of Saint Agnes Orphanage."
"Be that as it may, the donation has been made, and we should be grateful. Christmastime has a tendency to bring out a spark of humanity in people. We should embrace that."
"You're right that the donation was nice," Eunice conceded. "But a spark of humanity? From Tony Stark? If that man ever manages to become anything other than a rich playboy who toys with gadgets, that will be a Christmas miracle…"
Their voices faded out, and Matt tried yet again to center himself around his breathing. But he only succeeded for a few minutes before there was a knock at his door. The nun entered without waiting for an answer, as they always did.
He could tell by the weight of her footsteps and the rhythm of her walk that it was Sister Abigail, one of his favorite nuns. She never treated him differently due to his blindness, and had Stick not warned him against it so fiercely, he might have confided in her about his abilities.
"You missed Christmas Eve dinner tonight, Matthew," she said gently.
"I know. I'm sorry," he said. "I wasn't hungry."
In truth, he could always taste the scented lotion that the orphanage's new cook liberally applied to her hands, and he had been avoiding eating many of the meals she prepared. If he had known that the food came from somewhere else that night, be probably would have come to dinner.
Matt heard the clink of a plate being set down on his nightstand, and the smell of food—which he hadn't been paying attention to earlier—reached his nose, making him realize how hungry he was.
"My dad used to take us to a Chinese restaurant every Christmas," Matt said suddenly. "It feels weird not going to one. Like it's not Christmas."
Matt wasn't sure why he shared this information with her.
"I'm sure this time of year is different for you now than what you remember," Sister Abigail said gently. "But you have to remember that what the season is really about is celebrating the Lord. That hasn't changed, even if your circumstances have."
Matt winced guiltily. "I know. I'm sorry."
"It's not a reprimand, Matthew. It's a comfort," she said. Matt tilted his head as he tried to understand what she meant. "Eat your dinner and try to get some sleep."
"I will. Thank you."
He did eat the dinner, but he didn't manage to get any sleep. Around midnight, he accepted that the meditation wasn't working tonight. He needed to get out. Changing out of his pajamas and pulling on his coat, he quietly slipped through the corridors, sticking to what he assumed were shadows, based on the location of the buzzing lights above him, and kept an ear out for the approaching footsteps of nuns.
Once outside, he inhaled the scent of falling snow, enjoying the way it smelled before the exhaust from the cars and buses got into it, turning it into piles of blackened sludge around the edges of the sidewalks. The snow softened the sounds of the city; even his own footsteps were muffled by the thick layer that carpeted the sidewalk. He liked the soft echo it made when it fell across things; the way it lay across the power lines and fell into the spaces between the bricks of buildings.
He only had to walk for about ten minutes before he reached his intended destination. The lock on the side door was still busted, as it had been for years, and Matt quietly yanked the metal door open and slipped inside.
The familiar smell of sweat and gym mats hit him hard. It was the first time he had returned to Fogwell's since that last time his father had trained for a match. Part of him immediately regretted coming here, but somehow he couldn't make himself turn around.
He made his way through the boxing gym until he stood in front of the punching bag, torn between the urge to punch it—as Stick would have wanted—or to walk away from it—as his father would have wanted. But really, he thought angrily, why should he listen to either of them? They both chose to leave him behind in their own ways.
"Don't think you're supposed to be in here, kid."
Matt jumped, surprised by the man's presence behind him. It was the janitor. If he had been focused, he no doubt would have picked up on his heartbeat or body temperature, but he'd been distracted by the heavy ache that had settled over him from the moment he stepped inside.
"I'm sorry," he muttered in embarrassment. "I can go."
He quickly started to leave, feeling his way along the edge of the ring and hoping the janitor wouldn't ask him how he got there or where his cane was.
"Hey," the man called after him suddenly. "You're Jack Murdock's kid, aren't you?"
Matt paused, then nodded. He had long since resigned himself to the fact that many people in Hell's Kitchen knew who he was, either from the news of his accident or the notoriety of his father's murder.
"You know, I was always under the impression that your dad wasn't crazy about you following in his footsteps."
He was surprised that the man knew that. But he guessed it must have been obvious, given Jack's insistence that Matt do his homework anytime he was in the gym with him.
"I'm not following in anyone's footsteps," Matt said quietly. "I just…I just wanted to come here. To be alone."
"Yeah. I guess there's not a lot of places to be alone in a big city," the janitor acknowledged, then descended into a fit of coughing. The man was ancient, and if Matt focused, he could sense the disease growing in his lungs and throat. He probably didn't have many more Christmases left.
"I live with about thirty other kids and a bunch of nuns," Matt said lightly. "I'm never alone."
"No, I guess you wouldn't be. But it's Christmas Eve. Aren't you worried Santa's not going to come if you aren't in bed?" the janitor joked weakly.
"I'm eleven," he reminded the man.
"Right…too old for Santa, I guess."
"I guess there's no harm you being in here. As long as you're not messing with any of the equipment. But if any of those nuns show up asking if I knew you were sneaking in here, you're on your own. I went to Catholic school; I'm not about to get on a nun's bad side anytime soon."
Matt cracked a grin at that. "Me, either."
He heard car keys jingling as the janitor prepared to leave.
"You can go out the way you came in. You want I should leave the lights on?" There was an awkward pause as he seemed to register what he'd just asked. "Er…I guess it probably doesn't matter."
Matt just shrugged.
"Yeah, well…Merry Christmas, kid."
And with that, he was alone again.
In the short stretch of time between the chemical spill and his father dying, Matt had loved spending time in Fogwell's Gym. He'd spent so much time there before he lost his sight that the picture of what it looked like was permanently etched into his brain. He never had to strain his senses to put together what was around him; the image just came automatically, like the layout of his old home or the contours of his father's face.
He stayed there for a long time, sitting in front of the punching bag but not touching it. It still felt like his father's domain, something he would get scolded for touching. But just being in the boxing gym made him feel better, in the same way that going to church did.
Eventually, he pushed through the rusty metal side door and back out into the snowy night, slipping back into the orphanage shortly after two in the morning. For the most part, the entire building shut down right around midnight, so he was surprised to pick up on two voices coming from the front office. He paused, listening curiously.
The first voice he recognized as Sister Abigail's. On the surface she sounded comforting and calm, but below that was a deep sadness. She was talking to Sister Angelica about one of the children who had been placed in a foster home and was now back in the orphanage. Her new 'family' had brought her back earlier that evening.
"…and we still had her old bedroom on the second floor made up for her, she's been back so many times. They couldn't have brought her back at a worse time. She missed the Christmas Eve dinner, she didn't get a stocking. And now she has to spend Christmas Day here."
Matt knew right away which child they were talking about. He couldn't remember the girl's name—Mary something, maybe—but he knew they couldn't be talking about anyone else. She was a couple of years younger than him, and she had been shuffled in and out of the orphanage a few times, assigned to various families but somehow always ending up back at St. Agnes. He felt bad for her each time she came back—it hurt to get attached to someone only to have them decide to give up on you.
"Well, candy is bad for children anyway," Sister Eunice said indifferently. "And maybe if she was better behaved, she wouldn't always end up back here."
Matt frowned at that, shaking his head. He listened for another few moments before turning and making his way back to his room, where he grabbed the stocking full of sweets from his desk. He tilted his head and listened closely, pushing his senses out towards the second floor, trying to pinpoint her heartbeat among many. It took him a minute, but finally he found it—a nine-year-old girl, the only one still awake on the second floor. Matt quickly and quietly found his way up to her room and left the stocking hanging on her doorknob, hoping that no one would come by and take it before she found it. It probably wouldn't make her Christmas any less miserable, but it was as much as he could help.
The next morning, the children were all awakened early to go to Christmas Mass—one of the few parts of the holiday that Matt could easily separate from memories of his father, who had always been reluctant at best about going to church on Christmas. He could sense many of the other children becoming fidgety during the long service—which, unlike their usual Masses, was still held partially in Latin.
Somewhere in the back row, a girl was eating chocolate candy. She kept accidentally crumpling the candy wrappers loudly, causing Sister Eunice to crane her neck around and scan the crowd for the culprit.
Matt found himself smiling slightly as the service continued, with the quiet crinkling sound of wrappers in the background.
2003, Corrigan Residence
It was Friday night, and Christmas was three days away. Sarah was in her bedroom, painstakingly straightening her long hair as she got ready to go to the party she had been looking forward to all week. Every year, Megan Caudill's parents always took themselves on a Christmas cruise for a few days in December, citing the need to get away from the cold and the holiday crowds of the city, and leaving Megan in charge of watching her younger brother at home. Obviously, this meant that every year Megan threw a party while they were gone.
Due to the difficulty of procuring large amounts of alcohol while underage, everyone was encouraged to just bring whatever they could get their hands on. Most of Sarah's friends took advantage of their college-aged older siblings being home from break to buy them alcohol. Sarah wasn't fortunate enough to have such an easy source, but luckily for her, Mitch Corrigan always had a hefty supply of alcohol on hand at any given time, and it would be relatively easy to sneak a bottle or two out without him noticing.
And so, earlier that day while her dad was napping, Sarah had snuck the key to the liquor cabinet out of his desk drawer and tried to be as quiet as possible as she selected a couple of bottles from the wide assortment available. At fifteen, her knowledge of alcohol didn't expand far beyond the few Bud Lights and cheap wine coolers that she and her friend had been able to get their hands on, so after trying to discern the difference between several different rums and whiskeys, she had finally given up and selected two bottles the liquor that sounded most holiday-themed: peppermint schnapps.
Now the bottles were stashed safely in her backpack and she was almost finished getting ready. The VH1 music video countdown was playing on the television in the background, and she watched it in the reflection of her mirror while she finished doing her hair. On the screen, Christina Aguilera was gyrating in low-rise jeans and a neon bikini top while her new single played in the background. Sarah turned the volume up and hummed along under her breath.
She was in a good mood as she got ready; partially because she was on her way to party, and partially because she was just happy to be home. She and her dad had spent the last two weeks moving between a couple of run-down motels and family friends' houses under the pretense of 'visiting,' but she knew full well that it was her father buying time while he somehow got his hands on enough money to pay back whoever he owed at the moment. But as always, he somehow came through, and a few days prior they had been able to safely come back home.
There was a quiet knock on her bedroom door. Sarah lowered the volume on her TV slightly.
"Come in," she called.
Her father poked his head through the door before entering the room.
"Hi, honey," he said, before his eyes fell on the television screen. "What are you watching?"
"VH1. Hey, can I get my belly button pierced?" Sarah asked absently as she ran the straightener through the last section of her hair.
"When you're thirty, maybe," Mitch said, picking up the remote to change the channel. Christina's long blonde and black hair was quickly replaced on the screen by the face of a teenage Patsy Walker as Mitch flipped to a popular kid's channel. "That's better."
"It's Patsy, Dad?" she said laughingly, throwing a skeptical look at the television screen. "Really?"
"You used to love It's Patsy," he protested.
"Yeah, when I was eleven."
"It's not my fault you got older so fast," he said, then frowned as he finally took in her outfit. "What are you all dressed up for, anyway?"
Sarah unplugged her straightener and opened the top drawer of her nightstand, rummaging through it to find her lip gloss.
"I'm spending the night at Megan's, remember? She's having a Christmas party." Sarah conveniently left out the fact that Megan's parents would not be there for said party.
"That's tonight? I thought it was tomorrow night."
"She moved it up a day," she explained. "I guess she has something to do tomorrow night." And her parents are coming back a day early.
"Oh," Mitch said, looking disappointed. "I…I guess I thought we were watching Christmas movies together tonight."
Sarah furrowed her brow, thinking for a second. Then she put her hand to her mouth, recalling that last weekend they had discussed having a holiday movie marathon soon, and she had told him they'd do it next Friday—which had now arrived.
"It totally slipped my mind," she said guiltily. "I'm sorry, Dad. Can we do it tomorrow night?"
Her father still looked disappointed, but gave her a small smile. "Yeah, of course, honey. Don't worry about it." He held up a finger, seemingly remembering something, and started toward the doorway, gesturing for her to follow. "In fact, since you're leaving, now is as good a time as any to give you your early Christmas gift, I suppose."
Sarah followed him out of the room and into the kitchen, bouncing excitedly on the balls of her feet. "Ooh, presents. What is it? What'd you get me?"
"You can't wait until you open the box?" he asked, chuckling at her eagerness.
He stood on the tips of his toes and reached up on top of the refrigerator, stretching his fingers out to reach a small box that was tucked in the very back.
"Good hiding place," she noted.
"I figured you'd be too lazy to get a stepstool and look up here."
"I'm also not seven, so I don't go hunting for my Christmas gifts, unlike some people in this household," she told him, giving him a meaningful look.
"If you didn't want me to find my gifts last year, you shouldn't have hidden them in such an obvious place," he told her innocently, handing her the gift.
"Behind the washing machine is not an obvious…" Sarah trailed off as she opened the box, letting her mouth fall open. "A cell phone? Seriously?"
"It's not a prank phone?" she asked suspiciously. "I won't open it and find out that it's actually, like, one of those McDonalds toy french fry phones?"
Mitch laughed loudly at her disbelief.
"It's a real cell phone, ye of little faith. And apparently it can take photos," he informed her excitedly. "Can't get much more advanced than that, huh? I toyed around with a bit before I gave it to you, but I haven't quite figured out how the camera works yet."
Sure enough, when Sarah opened the photos tab, there were several blurry, grainy pictures of the floor and Mitch's shoes. She hid a smile, choosing not to inform him. Then something occurred to her, and her excitement faded slightly.
"How can we afford this?" Sarah asked him hesitantly.
"Well, I…managed to scrounge up some Christmas cash," Mitch said, waving his hand unconcernedly.
Sarah gave him a skeptical look. She knew that by 'scrounge up' he most likely meant 'won by gambling,' but she didn't want to ruin the moment by calling him out on it. Instead she set the box down and threw her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly.
"Thanks, Dad. I really wasn't expecting this at all. Like, possibly ever."
"Well, you're pretty hard to shop for. There's only so many records and books of sheet music you can buy a girl. And I got to thinking about how next year you'll be turning sixteen, and you'll be old enough to apply for a driver's license. I figure if you're going to be running all over the city soon, you should have a way to get in touch with your old man besides pay phones." He held up a stern finger. "But you'll be in charge of paying for the monthly bill. You can use all of that babysitting money of yours."
"You can use it to call me when you get to Megan's," he said, and she remembered abruptly that she was still supposed to be getting ready for the party later that night. She flipped the cell phone open, checking the time on the small screen inside.
"Oh. Yeah, I need to head out in a few minutes, I guess."
There was a guilty feeling gnawing in her stomach now that the cell phone was in her hand. Her dad had gone and gotten her an expensive gift, and here she was ditching their plans to try to sneak alcohol out of the house.
Mitch waved her away. "Go, go. Be busy and popular."
Ten minutes later, Sarah came back down the hallway, the two bottles of peppermint schnapps nestled in her backpack with a layer of pajamas wrapped around them to stop them from clinking together loudly. She came around the corner into the living room and saw Mitch sitting in his usual spot on the couch. Two boxes of pizza sat on the coffee table in front of him, along with a two-liter of soda and her favorite chocolate cake from the bakery a few blocks away.
She bit her lip as she looked from the selection of food—which he had clearly ordered earlier, excited for their plans that night—and the guilty sensation twisted in her stomach even more.
"You heading out, honey?"
"Yeah," she answered, adjusting the straps on her backpack.
"Alright. Call me when you get there," he said, then added with a grin, "Your first call on your new cell phone, huh?"
Sarah smiled back at him, but it was half-hearted. She glanced over again at the assortment of food, and then down at the cell phone in her hand.
"Um…I'm going to go make a phone call right now, actually," Sarah said, opening the sliding door so she could step out onto the porch. "I'll just be a minute."
Once the door was safely closed behind her, Sarah dialed her friend's house number. When Megan answered, Sarah could already hear music and laughter in the background.
"Hel—shh guys, keep it down—Hello, Caudill residence."
Sarah was bewildered by the formal greeting at first, before realizing that Megan wouldn't recognize her new cell phone number on the caller ID.
"Hey, it's me."
"Sarah?" Megan said. The others in the background resumed their chatter, reassured that it wasn't a nosey parent on the phone. "Where are you calling from?"
"I got a cell phone for Christmas," Sarah told her.
"Oh, sweet! I want to check it out when you get here."
The excitement faded. "Right. Um, about that. I can't make it tonight."
"I know, I know," Sarah replied, glancing back at her dad through the living room window. She had expected to feel guilty about cancelling her plans with her friends, but oddly enough she felt lighter, if anything.
"Why can't you come?"
Sarah briefly considered telling the truth, but she could already imagine what Megan would tell the others as soon as she hung up the phone—"Sarah's ditching us because she wants to hang out at home with her dad."—and decided against it.
"I…got busted trying to sneak the liquor out," she lied. "So, I'm grounded."
"Ugh, that sucks."
"You can still talk on the phone when you're grounded?" Megan asked, and Sarah could already hear the slight whine in her voice. "God, your dad is so chill."
"Yeah, he's alright," she said, holding back a grin. "So, I'll see you after Christmas, okay? Have fun at the party."
She flipped the phone shut with a satisfying snap. My own cell phone, she thought to herself delightedly as she slid the glass door open and stepped back inside. She slipped her backpack off and set it on the reclining armchair before flopping down on the couch next to her dad.
"You didn't get mushrooms on the pizza, did you?"
Mitch looked over at her, surprised. "Are you not going to your party?"
She shrugged. "Nah. It sounded kind of lame. Besides, Allison Weston will be there, and she told Hannah Wheeler to tell Casey Meyers that I added him on MySpace because I want to go out with him, when really I just added him because he got frosted tips—which is so four years ago—but he asked Lucy Masterson's sister Leah to do it instead of a hairdresser, and so they turned out bright orange, and so I just added him so I could see the photos he posted of it and make fun of him with Megan."
Mitch blinked at the influx of names and information as she rambled, but he still nodded gamely and tried to keep up.
"So, you're staying home tonight because of…frosted tips?"
She shrugged. "Basically."
He looked at her for a moment before smiling, then leaned forward and flipped the lid up on one of the pizza boxes to reveal plain cheese. "I left the mushrooms off, since it's Christmas and all. But we're getting them next time."
"Hmm, we'll see," she said grudgingly, then pushed herself up off the couch again. "I'll grab the paper plates from the kitchen."
She sneakily grabbed her backpack on her way to the kitchen, intending to return the liquor without notice.
"Do you mind grabbing some napkins from the drawer on your way to put that liquor back in the cabinet?"
Sarah stopped in her tracks, looking back at her dad in surprise.
"Of course I knew," Mitch said with a snort. "You think I didn't try to sneak liquor out to parties when I was a teenager? I know the tricks. Besides, you haven't quite mastered the art of hiding your guilty expression."
"So…you were just going to let me leave with alcohol in my bag?" she asked doubtfully.
"Eh, it's peppermint schnapps. There's only so much trouble you can get into with that," Mitch said, and Sarah frowned at the news that she had grabbed weak liquor. "If you had tried to take the Jameson, that'd be a different story."
"And…I'm not grounded or anything?"
He gave a good-natured shrug. "Not this time. Next time, absolutely. But…it's almost Christmas. I'm in the spirit."
Sarah's gaze lingered on the Santa mug in Mitch's hands, which almost certainly held more than just hot chocolate, and she wondered how much of that good mood could be attributed to Christmas spirits rather than spirit. Either way, she was relieved not to be in trouble—and also oddly relieved to not be hiding something from her father, as well. She didn't hide things from him very often, and it had felt strange.
She returned the two bottles of peppermint schnapps to the liquor cabinet, then grabbed the paper plates and napkins before returning to the living room and settling on the couch, tucking her feet underneath her.
"So, what's the movie pick?"
"A timeless Christmas tradition," Mitch said, holding up a familiar DVD case. "Die Hard."
Sarah rolled her eyes, unsurprised. Her father made them watch the same movie every Christmas.
"Die Hard does not count as Christmas movie, dad."
"What? Of course it does. It takes place at Christmas time. And remember that scene where he puts the little Santa hat on the dead guy? It's classic." Mitch shook his head and laughed slightly just thinking about it. "'Now I've got a machine gun, ho, ho, ho,'" he said in a poor imitation of his favorite scene in the movie.
"You're such a dork," she informed him, shaking her head. "Thank God I didn't inherit that from you."
"Says the girl who's home watching movies with her dad on a Friday night."
She looked at him indignantly, letting her mouth fall open. "I was going to go to a party! With alcohol. That's not dorky."
"Well, it was peppermint schnapps, honey," he said patronizingly, then patted her head. "But you tried."
She just huffed and grabbed a slice of pizza from the box. "That's not the point. The point is, we've seen Die Hard one million times."
"It's an important movie! It's full of good survival lessons."
"Yeah, because life is full of people running around office buildings, shooting guns and fighting."
Mitch just held his hands up. "You never know."
"We could always go see a Christmas movie at the theater instead," she offered hopefully. "I want to see Love Actually. It came out a couple of weeks ago."
"That British romantic comedy?" Mitch said. "I'll have to pass. We could go see Elf. That just came out too, right? I heard it's funny, and Will Ferrell is great."
"I hate Will Ferrell," Sarah complained. "Love Actually has Alan Rickman! You love him."
"You know what else has Alan Rickman?" Mitch asked, then held up the DVD case again insistently. "Die Hard."
Sarah groaned in defeat, but waved her hand for him to go ahead and put the movie in. She settle back against the throw pillows and gazed at the glittering Christmas tree while Mitch fiddled with the DVD player.
"I'll never figure this thing out," she heard him mutter resentfully. "What was wrong with VCRs, huh? Gotta upgrade everything."
He finally got the DVD to play and sat back down on the couch next to her. After a few minutes of previews, Sarah turned her head slightly, watching him hopefully out of the corner of her eye.
"So…can I try some of the peppermint schnapps, then?"
Mitch laughed, shaking his head and handing her a Coke. "No."
2011, Columbia dorm room
"My mom wants to know if you like Christmas ham."
Matt was deeply focused on the Braille copy of his Comparative Law textbook he was reading, and it took him a second to realize that Foggy—who had been on the phone with his mother making holiday plans for the last fifteen minutes—was now talking to him. He lifted his head up and frowned as he considered the question. "Uh…is it different than regular ham?"
"Is it different than regular ham?" Foggy repeated into the phone. There was a pause while he listened, then sighed as the answer apparently went on too long. After a few moments he covered the mouthpiece and addressed Matt again. "She's going on about spices and rubs. I think it's just more festive, or something. I don't know. Maybe it wears a little Santa hat."
"Sure. It sounds good," Matt said with a shrug.
"He says it sounds good, Ma," Foggy relayed. His mom seemed satisfied by the answer, and Foggy continued his conversation for a few more minutes while slowly spinning around in his desk chair. Matt went back to his textbook, but he only made it a few pages before he heard Foggy groan at some question his mother had asked him.
"What? I don't think it really matters what color it is, Ma. I—okay, okay, hang on," Foggy said, sounding exasperated. He spun the chair back around to face Matt. "I know this is going to sound like a stupid question, but what color would you like your scarf to be?"
Matt chuckled, but answered anyway. "Red, I guess."
"He says red." Matt could hear Foggy's mom on the other end of the line, reprimanding him for not wanting to ask. Foggy covered the mouthpiece again and whispered to Matt, "She's going to say she knitted the scarves herself, but every year she runs out of time and secretly buys them online. Just go with it; it's a longstanding Nelson family tradition."
Matt was unable to keep a smile from spreading across his face as he listened to Foggy argue fondly with his mom. After a few more minutes, Mrs. Nelson put her husband on the phone, and a voice that sounded just like Foggy's replaced hers on the line. Foggy and his dad chatted for a while about school and work and when Matt and Foggy would be arriving. Matt tried not to eavesdrop beyond the half of the conversation that would normally be available to him, but he found the comfortable banter of the Nelson family to be amusing and endearing.
Finally, Foggy hung up the phone and stretched as he stood up from his desk chair. Matt heard him cross the room and pull Matt's desk chair out, settling it in front of the bed and sitting down in it with a deep sigh.
"Listen, my friend. I'm worried about your mental health."
Matt raised his eyebrows. "Are you?"
"It's Christmas break. Finals are over. Classes are done. And you…are reading a textbook."
Matt laughed as he tried to defend himself. "It's for next semester! I have to order my books early to make sure the bookstore can ship in accessible copies. This one arrived today, so I figured I'd just…I'd get a head start."
"A head start! Let me tell you what you really need to get a head start on: holiday drinking." And with that, Foggy reached over and grabbed the textbook away from his roommate. Matt had been able to tell from the moment Foggy sat down that that had been his plan, but he didn't resist.
"Holiday drinking?" he repeated. "You want to go out to bars? Don't we have to be at your family's place tomorrow?"
"Not until the afternoon! That gives us plenty of recovery time. Matt, we are about to experience three straight days of a Nelson Family Christmas, starting tomorrow night. It's basically going to be like living in a different country."
"Hell's Kitchen is four miles from our dorm room, Foggy."
"Not in terms of distance!" Foggy said, waving his hands around in exasperation. "In terms of—of culture shock. Now, don't get me wrong—I'm going to love it, and so are you," Foggy informed him sternly. "But it's going to be nonstop, and this is our last chance before break to have some fun that doesn't involve stringing popcorn onto the Christmas tree and listening to my aunts get drunk and start telling embarrassing childhood anecdotes."
Privately, Matt thought that scenario sounded wonderful, but he didn't say as much. He did have to admit, however, that a beer sounded more inviting than studying, and it was the last night before break…
"Who's even going to be in a bar this close to Christmas?" Matt asked as a last ditch attempt, but Foggy was already pulling his coat and gloves on, waiting for his roommate to do the same.
"Um, only everyone," Foggy replied, as though this were obvious. "Haven't you heard? The holidays are the loneliest time of the year."
Sure enough, thirty minutes later when the two of them stepped through the front door to the bar, they were greeted by a large crowd of people wearing Christmas sweaters and Santa hats.
Matt's senses were immediately overwhelmed, as they always were in those first few minutes before he adjusted to a new environment. Men wearing too much cologne, women walking stiltedly in high heels, sweat soaking through festive Christmas sweaters and holiday dresses. Glasses clinking, jingle bells jingling, pop music covers of classic holiday songs playing over the speakers.
Foggy noticed the closed look on Matt's face as he took a moment to collect himself and block out the unwanted sensory information, and seemed to misinterpret the look as one of unhappiness.
"Wipe that frown off your face, Murdock. Tonight will be fun. We'll get drunk, eat bar food, meet girls. Sing Christmas karaoke!"
"I'll take the drinks and food, but I'm not singing karaoke," Matt said firmly, grinning at his friend's enthusiasm.
"And the meeting of girls?"
He chuckled. "We'll see."
"Don't be such a downer. For all you know, the love of your life is in this bar somewhere, Matt," Foggy told him cheerfully as he took Matt's arm and began to lead him through the crowd.
Matt laughed, shaking his head, "Why do I feel like that's not true?"
"Because you're a pessimist," Foggy replied.
Matt was about to respond when someone bumped into him as they tried to squeeze by, apparently too preoccupied with balancing two drinks and shouting into her cell phone over the din to successfully maneuver the crowd.
"Whoops—sorry!" he heard a female voice say beside him as liquid from her drink splashed onto the floor. He could hear her continuing to speak on her cell phone as she pushed her way through the throng of people. "I just practically trampled a blind man trying to find you, Sarah. I hope you're happy. Are you by the bathrooms or the entrance? Let's go somewhere less crowded."
Matt turned back to Foggy as the girl's voice faded into the crowd. "I'm not a pessimist, I just don't think that a bar full of drunk people in Santa hats is where I'll meet the girl for me."
"I think you'll feel differently after we get a few drinks into you, my friend."
They finally made their way through the crowd and found an empty table near the back of the bar. Matt took a seat while Foggy seemed to spot something through the mob of people.
"Ooh, hang on a second," Foggy said, and then disappeared into the crowd. A few moments later he returned with two shot glasses in his hand and crowed, "Free gingerbread shots!"
"What's a gingerbread shot?" Matt asked as Foggy guided the shot glass into his hand.
"Beats me. One of the waitresses was passing them out. I wasn't really listening past the word 'free.'"
Matt and Foggy threw back their shots simultaneously, and Matt had to hold back a grimace at the sugary taste. He identified the recipe immediately: Fireball whiskey, butterscotch schnapps, and a bit of hard apple cider. Altogether, too many sweet drinks to mix into one shot, and it tasted decidedly not like gingerbread.
"Ugh," Foggy gagged. "Well, that's awful. No wonder they're free. I'm gonna go get us a couple of beers."
The two of them drank together for a while as Foggy walked Matt through the list of names he'd need to remember during the trip, along with a few ways for him to attach them to different people: Uncle Leonard was the one who smoked like a chimney and had a voice like gravel; Aunt Louisa was the one who always used several cans of strong-smelling hairspray and would undoubtedly take an immediate interest in Matt; Freddy was the pompous cousin in his freshman year of college who would only speak in Kerouac metaphors; and Chloe was the nine-year-old niece who would spend the whole time hiding in a corner or under a table, quietly reading a book.
"So just don't trip and fall over her, or accidentally whack her with your cane or anything," Foggy finished. "Because let me tell you from experience: they will make you sit at the kid's table."
"This is a lot of preparation," Matt noted, then took a sip of his rum, which they had both long since switched to in the spirit of the season. Although he was excited to spend Christmas with Foggy's family, and touched that they had bothered to extend the invitation, he found himself oddly nervous about it, too. Not necessarily that they wouldn't like him—Matt found it easy enough to be charming around most people—but that he wouldn't know how to act in a family atmosphere. "Maybe you we should have been covering all this material instead of going out drinking tonight."
"No, no, no. We need this. You need this. To get out of your post-Meredith-breakup broodiness."
Matt grimaced and gave a noncommittal shrug. They sat in silence for a minute, and Matt could sense Foggy stopping himself from asking more about it. But the alcohol apparently wore down his restraint, because it wasn't too long before he casually asked, "I'm sure this is a pointless question, but what happened with her?"
Matt sighed and waved his hand evasively. "I…you know. It just didn't—"
"—didn't work out," Foggy finished for him. "And why was it this time?"
In truth, it didn't work out because Meredith had cheated on him. And she had covered her tracks well, to the point where if he hadn't been able to pick up on someone else's scent all over her (and her bedroom), if he hadn't heard the way her heart rate changed when she lied about always cancelling plans, he'd never have known. It wasn't even so much the fact that she had cheated on him; it was the fact that she had seemed to get some sort of thrill out of doing it. But he'd had no proof that he could provide without sounding like a crazy person, and so he had left her confused after a cold and sudden break up.
Of course, he couldn't tell Foggy that.
"Just…little things. I don't know. She never wanted to give me time alone to study. And she always left her clothes all over the floor. I'd always trip over them and almost break my neck. It was annoying." It was a partial truth, at least; a lot of little things about her had annoyed him. It didn't mean that it didn't sting when he'd figured out what was going on.
Matt could sense Foggy giving him a thoroughly unamused look. "Ah, yes. That's my biggest pet peeve in life, too. When beautiful women tear their clothes off around me and then leave them on the floor."
"Well, you have the unfair advantage of being able to see when said women leave clothing on the floor," Matt pointed out.
"Fair enough," Foggy conceded, before wrapping his hands around his beer glass and leaning forward over the table. "The point is, you've passed the required mourning period and are now free to hook up with other girls. Specifically…tall blonde girls in wonderfully form-fitting Christmas sweaters."
Matt tilted his head suspiciously. "That sounds awfully specific."
He could hear the grin in his friend's voice as he answered. "Remember that girl from our Civil Procedures class last semester who always offered to take notes for you? Even though you completely and obviously didn't need it?"
"Yeah, I remember her," Matt said slowly. "Kelly something, I think. Why?"
"Because she's sitting over at the bar with a friend, and she's been looking over at you all night. And I have been looking over at her redhead friend all night, so this really works out perfectly for everyone involved."
"Ah, I don't know, Foggy," Matt said reluctantly. "Kelly wasn't really my type."
"Excuse you, I know for a fact that your type is gorgeous women, and Kelly fits the bill."
Matt already knew that, of course. Kelly had spent enough time leaning over his notes and letting her long hair—which Foggy had informed him was a dark blonde—spill over his desk that he had a fairly good picture in his head of what she looked like. She was tall and had long legs, and often wore low-cut shirts that she somehow seemed to realize were distracting even to the blind. All things that Matt—like many guys—was an adamant fan of, but something about her had stopped him from ever asking her out.
Of course, now, with alcohol running through his bloodstream and Foggy watching him expectantly, Matt struggled to recall what that something was. Despite that, he continued to argue with his friend.
"When are you going to drop this insistence that I somehow know what beautiful women look like?"
"When you stop magically hooking up with only beautiful women, Matt," Foggy shot back. "Which is hopefully never, because I need to ride the coattails of your magic powers tonight."
"Uh huh. And how many times can you possibly use the blind thing to try to pick up girls?" Matt asked in exasperation. "It has to stop working eventually."
"Alright, alright, we'll figure out another shtick to use." Foggy thought for a minute, then snapped his fingers triumphantly. "Can you do a British accent?"
"I think she knows by now that I'm not British, Foggy."
"Right, good point. Well, then I guess we'll just have to stick with the blind bit, won't we? I certainly can't rely on my charm and wit to get girls—trust me, I've tried."
Matt chuckled at his friend's antics. But he was already pretty buzzed, and spending the evening talking to beautiful girls didn't sound like the worst way he could spend his time. And so, after downing the rest of their drinks, the two law students made their way over to the bar where Kelly and her friend were sitting.
Half an hour later, the four of them had gotten a booth together. Unfortunately, Kelly's friend—who's name Matt hadn't caught—turned out to be Matt's least favorite kind of drunk: loud, obnoxious, and rude. Luckily, her attention seemed to be almost entirely focused on Foggy, who had a much higher tolerance for such things than Matt did. This left Matt and Kelly more or less on their own on their side of the booth. After a few drinks Matt was having trouble concentrating, with his attention split between the loud, shrill laughter of Kelly's red-headed friend and the sensation of Kelly running her fingertips up and down his thigh under the table.
"What are you doing for Christmas?" Kelly asked him.
Between the alcohol and the woman sitting next to him, it took Matt's brain a moment to process the question, and another moment to remember the answer. "I'm going to Foggy's house."
Foggy leaned across the table at the mention of his name. "I'm forcing Matt to endure my family to get back at him for making me study all the time."
When Foggy addressed the two of them, Kelly's friend seemed to notice them again for the first time since they all sat down, and she pointed a finger at Matt.
"You know who you remind me of?" she asked, speaking much too loudly for such close proximity, even with the noise of the crowd. "What's his name? The little boy from A Christmas Carol? Tiny Tim! Because you have a cane!" She tittered drunkenly at the comparison.
Matt smiled politely, though it was strained. "I think Tiny Tim had a crutch, actually."
"Rena, stop it," Kelly hissed lowly as she leaned over the table, thinking that Matt couldn't hear her. Her friend—apparently named Rena—didn't seem to hear her either.
"Can I wear your glasses?" she asked loudly, reaching across the table towards his face.
Without thinking, Matt lightly caught her wrist before she could touch his glasses, guiding her hand back down to the table top.
"No," he told her firmly, then winced internally as he realized his slip up; he shouldn't have been able to tell that she was reaching for him. Sometimes it was exhausting to remember what he was and wasn't supposed to be able to do.
But Foggy, who was possibly even drunker than his date, didn't pick up on the mistake, nor did he notice the tension in Matt's face like he normally would have in such a situation.
The bar was loud and hot—although Matt didn't know how much of that was due to the way Kelly's hand kept finding its way higher up his leg—and he suddenly found himself wanting some fresh air. Besides, the idea of putting some space between himself and Foggy's intoxicated companion seemed like a good idea.
He leaned over so that he could speak lowly in Kelly's ear. "Do you want to step outside? Get some fresh air?"
Kelly started to nod before catching herself. "Yeah. Yeah, let's go."
As he let Kelly guide him through the crowd of people towards the back exit, Matt heard Foggy drunkenly recounting the butcher story to the red-head, and he smirked.
The back door made a scraping noise as they opened it, stepping out into the back alley that was generally used by smokers. Luckily for them, no one else was out there at the moment. Matt had expected a few more minutes of small talk about holiday plans, but Kelly wasted no time in immediately winding her hands around his neck and pressing her lips to his own.
Unfortunately for Matt, who had been hoping to escape from the overwhelming presence of the bar, being outside didn't prove to be much better. As the two of them leaned against the wall of the alleyway, he found that his mind was torn between what was happening directly in front of him, and things that were happening far away. The alcohol pumping through his system made it more difficult for Matt to block out unwanted sights and smells, and the dark corners of Hell's Kitchen stretched out their shadows to greet him.
Two streets away, a couple of cops were studiously ignoring a scream they heard come from the inside of a parking garage.
In an alleyway farther down the block, a teenage boy—he couldn't be any older than fifteen—was injecting a needle full of what smelled like heroin into the often-visited vein in his arm.
In one of the VIP rooms above the club, several men with handguns strapped to their sides were sharing cigars as they exchanged a bag of money that smelled like gunpowder and blood.
Matt must have tensed as the city's misery intruded on the moment, because Kelly pulled away slightly for a moment.
"What's wrong?" she asked, still only inches away from his mouth. Her breath smelled like the expensive vodka she had been drinking.
He shook his head and tugged her closer, trailing his lips down her neck and listening to the sound of her heartbeat increasing rapidly at the contact. "Nothing."
It was a lie. He was enjoying himself, that was true—and he was positive Kelly was, too—but there was constantly a piece of him that wasn't present for what they were doing. Instead it was listening to the people of Hell's Kitchen who were crying out in pain and fear, and it was getting harder and harder for him to ignore them. Every day, he hoped that the burden would lighten when he finally became a lawyer, and could provide some form of help to the people whose pain he heard so clearly each day and night. But a growing part of him worried that it wouldn't be enough.
He felt guilty for entertaining thoughts of violence against his father's wishes—thoughts that crossed his mind more and more every day. Simultaneously, he felt guilty for ignoring the strong pull of what felt like the right thing to do. He felt guilty for using a girl he barely liked as a distraction from his own thoughts, and he felt guilty for lying to Foggy when he was kind enough to invite him home for Christmas.
Matt ghosted his fingertips across the sliver of exposed skin at the bottom of Kelly's sweater, feeling goosebumps form wherever he touched. The sensation brought him back to the moment, dulling the intrusive thoughts but not silencing them completely. She pressed herself closer against him, and he let his hands slide up under the fabric of her sweater.
The clock was running out until the moment the devil would step in and take over, less than two years later. But for now, Matt was still able to keep it under control, kept carefully distracted by school and—currently—a tall blonde whose perfectly manicured nails were raking through his hair.
After they had been in the alley for a significant amount of time, Matt noticed that she was shivering slightly.
"Are you cold?" he murmured.
She nodded. "Yeah, a little."
"Let's go back inside," he suggested, nodding towards the building.
"I was thinking we'd go somewhere else instead," she said mischievously, before pressing her lips against his again. Her perfume was strong enough that he could taste it on her, and the square tips of her nails felt too sharp through his shirt as she raked them down his back.
Matt went home with her anyway. After all, as Foggy had said: the holidays were the loneliest time of the year.
2013, Macy's Department Store
"Remind me again why we decided to go shopping during one of the busiest shopping days of the year? Christmas is four days away, Sarah."
Sarah grinned at her friend, who was grumpily observing the crowded department store from where they stood leaning against the railing inside Macy's Department Store, overlooking the several levels of the store below.
"Because it's fun!" Sarah told her, then gestured the garland and wreaths that adorned the walls. "And festive. Look at all of these decorations."
"These decorations have been up since a week before Halloween," Lauren pointed out. "And I can think of a lot of festive things that don't involve breathing in the germs of a million other New Yorkers."
"Alright, alright," Sarah said, then gave Lauren a sideways glance and added innocently, "Then we can leave, and you go meet up with your mother and break the news to her that you're engaged."
Lauren considered this option for a few seconds as she looked down at the crowd, apparently weighing which one sounded worse. "I would rather be trampled by holiday shoppers," she finally concluded.
"Great!" Sarah clapped her hands excitedly. "Then let's hit the dresses section downstairs. I need a nice one to wear to Nick's Christmas party tomorrow night."
They made their way down to the second level, which luckily was less crowded than some of the other areas, leaving them free to browse through the dresses, holding up ones that caught their eye.
"You know, when you do tell your mom, she's going to blow a gasket," Sarah pointed out as she fingered a dark red dress, trying to figure out if it was too short for a company holiday party.
"Oh, I definitely know," Lauren said. "And it's not that I'm not looking forward to seeing that particular meltdown—because I totally am—but once I tell her, she's going to tell the rest of the family, and then they'll all be up in my business until pretty much the day of the wedding."
"Speaking of which, when are you guys setting a date?"
"I don't know. We'll probably set it for next September, maybe. Plenty of time for you to help me figure out what the hell I'm doing. And for you to invite…you know, whoever you want to bring as your plus-one," Lauren said with a practiced casualness.
Sarah raised her eyebrows at Lauren's careful wording.
"What do you mean by that? You think I won't be with Nick by the time you two get married?" Sarah asked, trying to muster the energy to sound offended. Lauren gave her a knowing look, and Sarah held the pretense for a few more moments before letting her shoulders slump in defeat. "I'm probably going to break up with him next week."
"I knew it. Why not this week?"
"It's Christmas, Lauren!" Sarah said. "I can't break up with the guy during Christmas."
Her friend looked at her suspiciously. "You just want to go to the Christmas party because there'll be an open bar."
Sarah winced. "There will also be a lot of free dessert," she offered guiltily. "And I like getting dressed up."
Lauren held up a glittery green and gold dress for inspection. Sarah wrinkled her nose in disapproval, and the two continued searching through the dresses for a few minutes in silence. Sarah spotted a shimmery blue one that caught her eye, but the last one in her size was the one on display.
"Just take it off the mannequin," Lauren said.
"I can't do that. Don't you have to find, like, an official person to do that?"
"Yeah, good luck tracking down a sales associate in this crowd. Just take it off yourself, they won't care."
Sarah looked around, and then quickly started to slip the blue dress off the mannequin. Unfortunately, she didn't realize that the arms were detachable, and one of them snapped loudly out of its socket. As she blinked down at the detached arm in surprise, she heard a horrified gasp behind her. She looked up to see a traumatized-looking child of about six or seven staring at the realistic-looking arm in Sarah's hands. When they made eye contact, the boy promptly ran the other way.
"Sorry! It's not a real arm! Merry Christmas!" she called after him.
Lauren came to stand next to her as they watched the kid run away. "You know you'll have to buy him a gift now."
Sarah glanced at her in confusion. "That kid? He'll get over it in a minute, he doesn't need a present. It's not like it was a real arm," she repeated, waving the offending limb around.
"No, you weirdo, I mean Nick. If you wait until after Christmas to break up with him, you'll have to buy him something," Lauren explained.
"Oh, yeah," Sarah said, then shrugged. "I'll get him a tie clip."
"A tie clip?" Lauren repeated. "To help spice up all of his horribly fitting suits?"
Sarah begrudgingly had to admit that her friend had a point. "They really don't fit very well, do they?"
"No. Has the man never heard of a tailor? I think your rule should be no more dating guys in suits. That will help eliminate at least seventy percent of the boring guys you usually date. Unless they wear the suit really well, like Don Draper. Then you can date them."
"I don't think I'd be very happy dating Don Draper," Sarah said thoughtfully, looking around before awkwardly setting the severed mannequin arm down on top of the jewelry counter and hastening away from the area. "He's always so broody."
"Don't knock broody till you've tried it."
They spent a while longer looking through the dresses, with Lauren adding one particularly inappropriate strappy black number to the options—"Just try it on, you don't have to buy it."—before checking her phone and slapping a hand to her forehead.
"Dammit, I forgot I need to get something for my nephew. What do seven-year-old boys like?"
"I don't know." Sarah held up the collection of dresses she was holding. "Probably not discount designer clothes. Action figures, maybe?"
"Ooh, good choice," Lauren agreed, craning her head around until she spotted the directory sign pointing them towards the kids department. "Come on, let's go to the toy section."
Satisfied with the three potential dresses draped over her arm, Sarah followed Lauren out of the racks of clothes and towards the toy area, which was significantly more crowded with frazzled parents.
"Maybe you could wait until after Christmas to tell your mom about Greg proposing," Sarah suggested. "Otherwise you'll have to sit through multiple family Christmas gatherings with all of your extended relatives asking you when you guys will be having kids."
"Kids?" Lauren repeated dumbly, as though the idea had never occurred to her. "Good Lord, no. Maybe ten years down the line I'll consider having a kid, but definitely not now. I still have so many slutty outfits to wear that I'd never be able to fit into again."
"Are you sure?" Sarah said. They passed by a display of small, hyper-realistic looking baby dolls and she grabbed one, holding it up. "They're kind of cute."
"Put that back right now," Lauren ordered. "Why do they make those things so realistic now, anyway? It's creepy."
She tried to snatch the doll from Sarah's grasp, and Sarah held it out of her reach, fumbling and dropping it so that it landed on its head. The impact triggered a loud, recorded crying noise and startling several shoppers around them.
"Oh my god, Sarah," Lauren said, bending down and picking up the surprisingly loud doll. "If I ever do have a baby there is no way I'm letting you hold it."
"Well, as long as your future baby isn't made of slippery plastic, I think we'll be alright," Sarah shot back over the ear-splitting crying sound. "God, do they have to program them to be so loud? Kids are going to go deaf if their parents buy these for them."
"How do I make it stop?" Lauren asked, then shook the baby doll experimentally.
"Well, not by shaking it," Sarah said, grabbing it away from her. "Jesus."
A couple of women shopping with their children lingered at the end of the aisle, giving them dirty looks. Sarah wasn't sure if it was because of the loud noise or their handling of the doll.
"Lets just—shove this in here—" Sarah muttered, sticking the baby doll under a pile of stuffed animals to muffle the piercing crying sound. "Okay, come on. Toys for you nephew."
They made their way over to an aisle full of brightly colored action figures. As they looked through the selection of small figurines, Lauren bounced back to the previous topic of conversation.
"So, why are you dumping Nick?"
Sarah shrugged, picking up a couple of tiny plastic pirates and studying them. "I don't know. I guess I just never look forward to spending time with him anymore. That's kind of a sign, right?"
"Yeah. It's a sign that you need to date more interesting people."
"He's interesting!" Sarah protested. "He has that…coin…collection."
Lauren just raised her eyebrows and hummed disapprovingly.
"You and I have different definitions of interesting, though," Sarah pointed out. "You'd probably be happy if I started dating one of the crazy Michael Jackson impersonators that hang out in Times Square. That counts as interesting."
Her friend grabbed a tiny plastic figure wearing a red and blue costume and holding up a star-adorned shield. "Captain America counts as interesting, too! Are you saying you'd turn down a date with him?"
"Um, yes. Dating a superhero sounds like the most stressful thing ever," Sarah protested, but the other woman ignored her.
"They did a good job recreating his ass," Lauren noted as she studied the tiny figurine in her palm. "Maybe I should buy this for me."
"Are you or are you not wearing a brand new engagement ring on your finger?"
"What? I'm just saying, this would make a great tree topper. All we have up there right now is some dumb angel or something."
Sarah chose to ignore her, checking her watch instead. "Alright, we have an hour left and then I have to take my dad to his doctor's appointment."
"Another one? What do they think is up with him?"
"They're not sure yet," Sarah said, frowning. Her dad had been having more and more mood swings and difficulty concentrating in the past few months, and each time they brought it up to the doctors, they were just told that it was unusual for a man his age, and that it was probably stress. "But I'm going to keep dragging him to doctors until someone gives me a better answer than just 'stress,' you know?"
Emerging from the other end of the toy section, they ended up in front the baby grand piano that was set up next to the escalators, where usually the store's pianist sat and played Christmas carols. Currently, he appeared to be on a break, leaving the piano abandoned.
"You should go play it," Lauren said jokingly when she spotted what Sarah looking at the instrument—a nicer piano than she'd ever be able to afford. "You'd definitely be better than that guy who was playing earlier."
"We'd really rather you didn't," came a voice from behind them. They turned around to see a man wearing an assistant manager badge standing behind them, wearing a polite but stiff expression. "I'm sorry ladies. There have been a few complaints about you disrupting other shoppers. Are you…planning on purchasing something?"
Sarah blushed, embarrassed at being called out, and held up the pile of dresses she was holding. "Uh, yes."
"Yep. Yes," Lauren agreed, holding up the tiny Captain America in her hand.
"Wonderful. I'd be happy to assist you with that right now," the man said pointedly. "At the Customer Service desk. Right this way."
The two of them followed the manager through the store with guilty looks on their faces. Guess I have to buy all three dresses now, Sarah thought to herself resignedly, eyeing the wildly inappropriate one that Lauren had selected. Good thing I have a steady job.
"I can't believe you got us kicked out of Macy's," Sarah whispered to Lauren resentfully.
"Me?" Lauren exclaimed, not bothering to keep her voice down like her friend did. "You were the one who broke the mannequin."
"You were the one shaking a fake baby in the middle of the toy section!"
"Fair. This is what we get for trying to hobnob with the upper crust," Lauren said with a dramatic sigh. "There's a reason they don't let people like us leave Hell's Kitchen."
After they purchased their items—with Sarah spending several times more than she had planned—the manager was approached by several customers demanding refunds, distracting him from his task of removing the two women from the store, leaving them to find their way out on their own.
On their way out, they passed by the large North Pole set that had been constructed in the center of the store for children to take pictures with Santa. His usual throne was empty, and a small sign hung on the gate to the area: Santa will return at 10:00am tomorrow. Until then, please write him a letter telling him what you'd like for Christmas!
Next to the gate was a letterbox with a stack of paper set on top and a pen dangling from a small chain on the side.
Sarah glanced over her shoulder to see if the uptight sale's associate was still monitoring them; he was nowhere to be seen. "Let's write him a letter."
"I was hoping you'd suggest that," Lauren agreed, setting her shopping bags down and grabbing one of the pens. Then she reached out a hand to pause Sarah from reaching for a sheet of paper. "Wait, wait, wait. Let's do each other's."
"Write each others' Christmas lists? You can't do that! It's cheating."
"Um, it's not like Santa knows our handwriting, Sarah."
"You don't know that," Sarah argued. "If all we get is coal, I blame you."
The two of them huddled over the letter box for a moment, scribbling on the small pieces of paper. Then they simultaneously dropped them into the box.
"What'd you ask him to bring me?" Sarah questioned.
"Oh, you know. More interesting people. More excitement in your life."
"Are you saying my life is boring?" Sarah asked, a bit offended.
Lauren tilted her head and made an ambivalent noise. "I mean…boring isn't the word I would choose to describe you. Predictable, maybe."
"Predictable?" Sarah complained.
"Which isn't a bad thing!" Lauren added hastily at the look on Sarah's face. "But I'm about to get married. And if romantic comedies have taught me anything, it's that there's nothing more boring than married life. So I'll need to live vicariously through you, and if I'm going to do that, I need your life to be more…lively."
"I don't like it. Remember when you complained that New York was starting to get boring?" Sarah asked pointedly. "A month later a bunch of aliens ripped the sky open."
"And you're saying you think…Santa sent the aliens?" Lauren asked slowly.
Sarah held her hands up innocently. "I'm just saying that someone up there is listening to your wishes for whatever reason, and they are taking you way too literally. So don't bring that bad luck my way."
"Well, it's too late now. The wish has been made. So when excitement comes knocking on your door soon, you need to answer it."
Sarah rolled her eyes, but before she could reply she spotted the assistant manager coming their way again, and the two of them hastily collected their bags and exited the store.
Just a few months later, a knock did come at Sarah's door. When she opened it, she found James Wesley standing on her doorstep. After he left, she would distinctly remember that day in the department store, and think resentfully to herself that this was not at all the Christmas miracle she had hoped for.
2015, Hell's Kitchen
Christmas of 2015 would mark the first Christmas in years that Matt Murdock didn't have to desperately search for an escape from the overwhelming presence of the season. And after a miserable Christmas of 2014—finishing off a dismal 2014 over all, in fact—it would be a pleasant surprise when Sarah Corrigan found that she still had any of her old holiday spirit left in her, much less a reason to indulge it.
It wasn't a perfect Christmas, of course. There was still violence and deception, danger and lying. Things that both Matt and Sarah were long since used to by that point.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
That's a Christmas story for another time.
Scene One—1997: Matt is 11
Scene Two—2003: Sarah is 15
Scene Three—2011: Matt is 25
Scene Four—2013: Sarah is 25